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The Impact of Federal Early Care and Education Programs on Tribes

Enormous systemic challenges complicate the support the federal government gives American Indian and Alaska Native families with young children.

When the federal government entered treaties with tribes to acquire their lands, the government guaranteed to protect and enhance tribal lands, resources, and self-governance. This includes economic and social programs to raise the standard of living and social well-being of AI/AN people to a level comparable to the rest of the county. However, the efforts to support the healthy growth and development of young AI/AN children have fallen short.

Tribes are ineligible to receive or apply for several major federal programs dedicated to early learning and development. These include:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B.
  • Preschool (Section 619) Grants.
  • Preschool Development Grants.
  • State Grants provided under Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

When tribes are eligible for funding, the amount available depends on arbitrary allotments that exist in law—many of which are not calculated based on any reasonable assessment of need.

Administration and availability of funds also varies across federal programs. Some programs provide direct grants to tribes or require tribes to petition states for funding. Others set aside a certain amount to be administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs through its Bureau of Indian Education department which only gives funding to certain tribes.

To better understand the different programs that affect AI/AN children and young families living on tribal lands, the Bipartisan Policy Center comprehensively reviewed federal early care and education programs impacting this population. It serves as an addendum to BPC’s Tribal Early Care and Education Programs report released in 2021.

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